Public Relations Guide to Newsworthiness Op-Ed Explainer

By Melissa Baldwin

Tigercomm attention meter

(Credit: Clare Quirin)

Often, companies seek public relations services with the goal of securing top-tier national news coverage — the desire to see their names in lights. But many cleantech B2B companies’ news revolves around commercial announcements with no clear tie-in to broader market trends that merit national coverage.

Your ability to earn media coverage depends on several factors. In the public relations profession, the pre-internet term was “newsworthiness.” At our firm, we call it “attention-worthiness.” The important lesson I want to share is: The bar for newsworthiness has gotten much higher. If you want to get attention, you have to find something interesting to say to your audience; that may not be all about you.

There are three main drivers of attention: Who you are, what you say and how you say it. I will break down those factors and offer tips to increase your chances of earning attention through content that expands beyond company announcements and adds insight to the larger marketplace.

The three main drivers of attention:

  1. Who you are (your platform and credibility)
  2. How you speak (your style)
  3. What you say (your content)

Attention Driver #1: Who You Are — From What Platform Do You Speak?

There are prominent individuals, such as Elon Musk, who can generate news while they sleep. Literally.

We found an article in the well-respected The Wall Street Journal on Elon Musk’s sleeping habits and back pain.1

Typically this happens when an individual speaks from a platform so well-established that it influences the world at large. Examples of this include Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, whose market-moving comments are cataloged excessively.2 Another example of an attention-driving platform: The Vatican. We found over a dozen articles on the topic of Pope Francis’s footwear.3

Unfortunately, most cleantech companies cannot rely on their platforms alone to capture attention.

Attention Driver #2: How You Say It — This Is Essentially Your Flair

The best example of flair is the Kardashian family. Whether you love them, hate them or don’t have an opinion, it is easy to see the Kardashians’ flair. By that, I mean their bold style: attitude, drama, entertainment. Their ability to captivate attention has kept them relevant in pop culture for 20 years. News stories are written about ordinary things they do that would never be news if you or I did them.

We found a story about the socialite Khloe Kardashian wearing a fanny pack and another about her daughter making a homemade pizza.4, 5

The reality is that most cleantech news companies don’t want to engage in drama or Kardashian-like behavior — and that is understandable, since they want to be taken seriously. But keep in mind that drama is what some journalists are looking for, so if you have a good business reason to make a bold statement, that may get you some attention.

Attention Driver #3: What You Say — Your Content

This is the attention-getting tactic that most cleantech companies can use to excel and the one we recommend our clients focus on.

Every week, cleantech companies secure big sales, make new hires and attract investments. This is great news for your company that you can share and be proud of.

But standard commercial announcements don’t typically merit prestige media coverage outside of some industry trade publications – unless you’ve got a “wow factor” or a major superlative.  The “first ever,” the “biggest,” or anything unique could help you make the cut.

How do you stand out? That depends on how risky and interesting you are willing to be.

National journalists get hundreds of emails every day. Attention goes to the most interesting stories, which might involve some level of risky, controversial or bold behavior. Another level of scrutiny is — is this new? Are you repeating the same old thing, or do you have something new and different to offer?

The closer to safe and boring you are, the less likely you are to garner national media attention.

Your company must decide how risky and interesting you want and are able to be. There is no right or wrong answer. There is a balancing act in finding what is appropriate to say to your audience and what might spark attention. Risks have consequences.

When you gain national media attention, you may impress your customers, but you might also attract critics or inform competitors.

You will also face the de facto journalist instinct of ”telling both sides of the story.” The chances of a national news story being 100% positive news about your company — while possible — are slim. More likely, the story will aim for objectivity by including your point of view as well as other viewpoints.

Good stories thrive on tension. Most national media want to appeal to a broader audience, which means using classic storytelling techniques. If you aren’t familiar with narrative frameworks, it’s worth exploring the seven story types.6

Some story types, such as the quest or overcoming the monster — also known as “David and Goliath” — are probably familiar to you. The quest involves a plot where the hero begins a journey to success. Think about how you could use that narrative framework. Are you the hero, or is your customer the hero?

Overcoming the monster highlights a main character who aims to destroy a greater evil — the classic underdog we love to root for. Interesting storylines include drama, pain points, and flawed or dynamic characters who undergo a transformation.

Achieving national-level interest sometimes requires a willingness to be vulnerable or speak to uncomfortable truths. Many reporters want to analyze difficult challenges or expose a weakness. If there is a controversy brewing, they want to dig in and explore.

You rarely hear a story that reads: “Once upon a time, a company did something amazing and became successful without ever encountering any challenges, and everything was always awesome with no problems. The end.” Why? Because it’s boring!

So how can you get attention with your content?

Tip #1: Use data, trends or polling to say something interesting about the marketplace

Leverage data from your business to say something insightful about the market. Can you look within your internal analytics to identify and illustrate a broader market trend? Another effective method to gain attention is by conducting a poll7 or other research that goes beyond your company’s internal operations and focuses on your customer base or industry peers.

Tip #2: Personify your announcement with someone who experiences the impact of your news

TV and local news reporters love to personify news. To do this, find a real person who is directly affected. This could be a new hire who has a much-needed job thanks to the expansion of your factory or a veteran who benefits from the product or service you are selling. You need someone who is willing to share their personal story to illustrate the impact of your news.

While this approach typically requires more effort and shifts the focus away from your company, it’s usually worth it. People identify with people over companies. Providing a real example makes your news relatable and interesting.

Tip #3: Create a top-notch media kit 

Newsrooms are short on staff, so help them out with a compelling media kit. Include well-chosen, high-resolution images, with descriptive image titles and clear captions. Hire a videographer to capture video footage of your product or solution in action — we call this raw video footage b-roll. Showcase your people doing what they do best — accessible, visually compelling media will elevate your chance of securing coverage.

These tips won’t guarantee attention, but they’ll greatly raise your odds. Find useful things to say to the marketplace. Determine how risky and interesting you want to be and help a reporter out with compelling, easy-to-access-and-understand visual media.

The final takeaway: Tell your audience something interesting they don’t already know. Resist the urge to talk only about yourself. Instead, think about how you can speak to the bigger picture and provide helpful insight on topics your customers care about.  A skilled public relations person can work with you to bridge from internal subject-matter expertise to external value and help you generate the attention you seek.



About the Author

Melissa Baldwin is the senior vice president of Tigercomm, a clean-economy marketing communications firm. Her clients include solar manufacturers, developers and energy service companies. She creates breakthrough communication plans that branch out from incumbent strategies and harness renewables’ power to disrupt the dominant energy sector.

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